Division I: Nurses' Observations of Non-Patient Did Not Raise to Level of Mandatory Reporting to Law Enforcement
I like it when a case comes up that I have actually worked on, it makes reciting the facts so much easier.
This one arises from a pretty egregious set of circumstances. An adult family home was alleged to have stored medications from patients that had passed in a locked cabinet. It hired a gal and her credentials looked legitimate, though questions were raise later. This gal is alleged to have sedated a patient, which caused her to stop breathing.
Now, the cause of action here was against a couple of visiting nurses and the company they worked for. The visiting nurses saw some weird things and reported it to DSHS. DSHS did not get there in time.
First, a nurse heard a thud, and when she saw someone not her patient, advised the care giver she may wish to call 911. A second nurse was told of morphine sedation of a patient and reported it. After the patient died, the first nurse found out about the second nurse’s observations, and reported it, suspecting it was the same patient.
The nurses did not give care to the patient that died, and were given the narcotic information from a former junky that was staying there for rehab related to her leg (turns out repeated injections are not good for the cardiovascular health of one’s extremities). One nurse claims she did not see any bruising, which was claimed to have been seen by the witness who they didn’t think was credible.
The question in this case is whether the nurses should have done more. Nurses, are as you know, mandatory reporters (or maybe you didn’t know, but now you do). So the first nurse, simply knowing about a fall, but not seeing any signs of abuse or neglect, didn’t report until she had reason to suspect something more. The second nurse reported what she saw.
Now here, there are two portions that determine what reporting must happen. If its abuse or neglect, its reported to DSHS If its suspicion of a physical assault, its reported to DSHS and law enforcement.
Now, here’s where it gets weird for me. The Court of Appeals basically said that reason to suspect there was an assault is a higher burden than reasonable cause that someone has caused fear of imminent harm. The legislature didn’t define reason to suspect and what that meant. But it seems to me that reason to suspect an actual beating is a lower threshold than reasonable cause that someone was made afraid of a beating. So here, I think they may have gotten it wrong.
Now, if that’s the case, and there was some reason to suspect, then it should have been reported to law enforcement, who likely would have intervened.
Here, I think the COA got it wrong in their analysis of reason to suspect versus reasonable cause. After all, reasonable suspicion is a lower burden than probable cause.
Chalk it up to poor wording in the statute causing a problem for the Courts. I think we’ll see this one with a different result from the Washington State Supreme Court.
The Personal Injury Attorneys at Issaquah Legal Services are familiar cases of Elder Abuse and Neglect, and have litigated these cases on both sides. Please contact us and let us help shepherd you through the process.